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The king of Cupras: interview with Dr. Matthias Rabe (sponsored)

Dr. Matthias Rabe, SEAT’s head of R&D, gives evo an insight into the history, personality and future for the CUPRA brand

Since 2011 SEAT’s head of research and development, Matthias Rabe, has been Mr CUPRA. His job is to ensure every SEAT that wears the CUPRA badge meets a very demanding set of criteria for performance, handling and sheer driving pleasure.

So there’s no one better to ask what the CUPRA brand stands for today, or what we can expect from the forthcoming Leon CUPRA R, traditionally a model that evo holds in high regard and which helps define the entire CUPRA line-up.

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The new CUPRA R is substantially uprated over the already-impressive Leon CUPRA 300 – what do you want to achieve with it? Superior performance on the road, improved lap times on the track?

We wanted to take the next step, bringing the CUPRA R even closer to the racetrack. This car is more pure and more radical. We’ve developed a new exhaust system with less back-pressure, a fine-tuned chassis with new camber and wider track, stiffer engine and gearbox mounts and 18-inch Brembo brakes.

We also worked hard on aerodynamics and have achieved a drag efficiency improvement of 12 per cent with more downforce for better handling at speed. The new body parts are exclusively made in carbonfibre, like on race cars.

This all means we can offer impressive performance and have also created a car that’s more emotional in the way it looks and drives.

So, does that mean the CUPRA R has been developed at any stage by SEAT Sport? And what role does motorsport play in the development of CUPRA models?

Motorsport plays a very big role in the development of CUPRA. The first SEAT Ibiza CUPRA came as a result of our rally victories. Our success in motorsport has been proved in the last years with numerous victories at the racetrack.

We take the components and technology from the track and use them in the road cars. Around 60 per cent of our SEAT Leon Cup Racer is common to our SEAT Leon CUPRA.

The CUPRA R has some intriguing styling flourishes – it’s the first time copper and carbon have been used on a mainstream car, for example. What inspired this, and how important is it for CUPRA to be at the cutting edge of design?

Here again our inspiration is the racetrack for the carbon components, while the copper reflects the sophistication we want to offer to our customers. It’s a sophisticated, premium material that offers an exclusive and unique identity to this CUPRA R.

Who is the CUPRA R aimed at?

Unlike previous CUPRA Rs, the new model is a limited run of 799 cars – is this indicative of the future for CUPRA?

Not all CUPRA models are limited but we believe they are all exclusive. Exclusivity is a key value of the brand; every CUPRA is only for our most sophisticated and stylish customers.

The CUPRA R is limited mainly because of the way it is built. We finish the cars off the production line in the SEAT Sport workshops and the number we can make is therefore limited. Every car will have a unique numbered plaque – it really is very special.

Will we see more limited-edition models like the CUPRA R in the future?

That’s definitely something we’d like to do. Our customers like to have something special.

What can we expect from future CUPRA models?

We are working very hard and exploring the possibilities to extend our CUPRA range. There’s a real passion in the team of people developing these cars. They make CUPRA what it is today and will allow us to move it even further forward. It’s an exciting time.

What sort of impact does CUPRA have on the rest of the SEAT range?

Even though we don’t have CUPRA models across the full range, it is extremely important for the SEAT brand. It stands for performance and sophistication that provides for the most demanding customers. There is a little bit of the CUPRA spirit in every SEAT; they’re fun to drive and sophisticated even if they don’t have the performance of a CUPRA.

Finally, what does CUPRA mean to you personally?

Every car we’ve launched since the third Leon in 2012 has been based on what we call our ‘SEAT Formula’. This combines beautiful design with high functionality, offers great dynamism without compromising comfort, has high quality and the latest technology.

CUPRA is at the core of SEAT and distills this formula, making the perfect balance between driving fun and all-day practicality. CUPRA is designed for a very demanding and sophisticated customer but is also a perfect family car. I think we are unique in offering that.

Now the brand is evolving further and our new CUPRA R is the first step of the CUPRA revolution. It gives a flavour of what’s to come.

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